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Donuts kicks down .place fences after attempt at innovation

Donuts has made its temporarily restricted gTLD .place unrestricted once again, two years after announcing it would be taking a stab at some technological innovation.

.place has been under lockdown for two years as Donuts planned to use it in “geofencing” applications developed by a startup it had invested in.

Geofencing is the practice of dividing the world up into three dimensional GPS-based chunks, placing those chunks into a registry, then selling them to businesses and others.

The idea was that each .place domain would be linked to a specific geofenced area. Mick could register mickscafe.place and assign the coordinates of his cafe to that domain.

In 2018, Donuts started telling registrars not to sell .place domains until its partner, Geo.Network, had launched its applications. It had invested an undisclosed sum in Geo.Network in 2016, when it was known as GeoFrenzy.

But these applications do not appear to have yet surfaced, and Donuts is now letting anyone register .place names for $10 a pop.

Since the 2018 freeze, the number of registered .place domains has tumbled from about 7,500 to about 3,800. Donuts says it has a 63% renewal rate and that 26% of its names are in active use.

Donuts freezes .place gTLD ahead of new geofencing rules

Donuts has taken its .place gTLD temporarily off the market as it repurposes the space as a restricted zone for “geofencing” related uses.

That’s right, the biggest gTLD portfolio play and historically staunch advocate of open gTLDs is actually planning to introduce eligibility requirements into a currently unrestricted TLD.

Details are light ahead of a formal announcement, but I’m told all new .place registrants will have to agree to use their domains for geofencing purposes.

This looks a bit like it could be a taste of the “innovation” we were all promised from the new gTLD program.

Geofencing refers to systems that divide the world up into fenced-off virtual parcels of land based on GPS coordinates, enabling location-based services.

It’s an area Donuts has been looking at for a while, having invested in early-stage geofencing company GeoFrenzy, since rebranded as Geo.Network, two years ago.

While Donuts puts its new .place model in place — ICANN and registrars have been given the heads-up — it should not be possible to register any new .place domains.

Major registrars such as GoDaddy, Namecheap, Uniregistry and Donuts-owned Name.com were not returning results for .place domains on their storefronts when I checked over the weekend.

Other registrars did still appear to be offering the names, but I did not attempt to register one to check whether the sale would complete.

I gather that the new eligibility requirements will not apply retroactively, so anyone who currently owns a .place name will get to keep it on an unrestricted basis.

There are around 7,000 active .place domains currently.

Donuts makes weird investment in startup

Donuts has made a surprising investment in a company that makes geolocation technologies.

The new gTLD registry operator announced yesterday that it has something called Donuts Labs, through which it will make “strategic investments” in “similar” companies.

Its first investment is in California tech startup GeoFrenzy, which operates in the emerging “geofences” space.

A geofence is a virtual perimeter around a defined geographic location.

Basically, GeoFrenzy has divided the world up into square-centimeter chunks and stores data about who owns these chunks in a registry database.

Using the GPS service you’ll find in all modern mobile devices, apps using the technology can figure out when you walk into or out of a registered, fenced-off area, triggering some behavior.

Such services are believed to have applications ranging from logistics to advertising. One example on the GeoFrenzy web site says that its database and software could be used to keep drones out of restricted airspace.

The terms of the deal with were not disclosed, but it’s surprising news for a couple of reasons.

First, Donuts appears to have cash to throw around on pet side-projects at a time when one would assume, as an early-stage company itself, it would be more focused on growing its fledgling new gTLD business.

Second, the press release makes out that there are technology synergies between the companies.

GeoFrenzy CEO Sean Eilers is quoted as saying: “Their expertise in managing a highly scalable registry and their experience with innovative DNS technologies makes Donuts an ideal fit as an investor and strategic partner.”

But to the best of my knowledge Donuts doesn’t have any experience managing a highly scalable registry. It outsources all of that kind of thing to Rightside, doesn’t it?

Donuts says it will be making more, similar investments in future.